RAZORED ZEN

Friday, October 31, 2014

Common versus Poetical Language

I love poetical language in prose. My favorite books not only tell a decent story, but they tell it in heightened prose, either sheer and lovely or powerful and evocative. There is a music to the best prose.

“The old man has been ravened from within. That blind and greedy stare of his, that caved-in look, and the mouth working, reveal who now inhabits him, who now stares out. I nod to Death in passing, aware of the sound of my own feet upon my path. The ancient is lost in a shadow world, and gives no sign.” (Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard)

Most of the time when I write, I strive for the same thing. I not only want to tell the story, I want the prose to sing as the tale goes along. However, I just finished a story where I made no particular effort to get the prose to sing. There’s relatively little description. I minimized metaphors and similes. There’s a lot of dialogue. And I found out something:

Constructing poetical prose takes an immense amount of time and work. At least for me. On the days when I worked on this latest story, the word count expanded dramatically above my usual average. And the writing was just…easier. It made me think of another writer whose work I have greatly admired:

Ray Bradbury was a big influence on my writing, particularly, I think, on my desire to write poetically. Bradbury’s early stuff is just so incredibly beautiful that I am often left in awe. Some of the stuff he wrote in much later years doesn’t have the same zing and zest to me. I wonder if he noticed too that it takes a lot of effort to create poetry in prose. Did he finally get tired of the effort? Or did he just decide that a change in tone was due?

I don’t think my discovery is going to revolutionize my own writing. At least not yet. But I will be paying close attention to how this current story gets received by readers. Do readers really care about beautiful prose? Do some of them actually find it distracting? I know story is king, but shouldn’t the king be adorned?  Or is it better for the king to have no clothes?

What say you?
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Friday, October 24, 2014

Miscellaneous Adventures

Been pretty busy this week. We had mid-terms due. Here are a few things that happened.

1.  I had an amazingly beautiful dream on Wednesday. Lana and I had gone to a mountainous nature preserve where we saw five snow leopards crossing a creek. As night fell and I looked up at the sky I realized we weren't on earth. The stars were huge and absolutely myriad, and they did not all appear white but were gorgeous in brilliant shades of yellow, red, green and blue. Then, as I scanned the sky, I found a vast planet glowing a sullen red in one portion of the sky. The planet's seas appeared black, and there was a ring around the planet that was clearly an artificial construct. I could see space stations in orbit around the planet and understood that many of them were docks or construction sites for spaceships. I sure wish I could paint these images.

2. Lana and I watched the new Godzilla movie on Thursday night. We both thought it sucked, although I think Lana liked the depiction of Godzilla a fair amount. She certainly cheered when he used his lightning breath.  The movie definitely seemed to hark back to the original Japanese movies. However, all the plot lines involving humans in the movie turned upon them being absolutely stupid. I found myself unable to root for any of the human characters because of this stupidity. For example, why in hell would you arm a nuclear weapon while still in the city if you intend to take it out to sea to detonate it?

3. I found in my last year's reading that I didn't peruse many graphic novels so I've ordered a few from Amazon that should be in soon. I will report on them here.

4. And, delightfully, Randy Johnson has reviewed "The Adventures of an Arkansawyer" over on his "Not the Baseball Pitcher" blog. Thanks to Randy! I hope you will check it out.
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Lives

I was driving home from a writing conference, meandering my way through mist-cloaked mountains. There was other traffic on the highway, but not much. The road was wet. It was daylight but I couldn’t see the sun for the fog.

To my left the mountains fell away into a tree-choked gorge. On the right they rose and rose, majestic, covered with primeval forest. I came around a curve and was surprised and depressed to see a long, wide clearing running like a scar through the woods. Timber cutters had been at work here. The bare clay shown through, brownish-red and churned to mud.

The boles of sawn trees lay stacked along the scar. I gaped in astonishment at how huge they were. I thought of redwoods, which I’ve never seen in reality, but these seemed even bigger. Again, an impression of the primeval swept over me. It would not have seemed amiss to glimpse the towering forms of dinosaurs moving along the highway, or the sweeping leathery wings of pterodactyls stirring the mist-shrouded sky.

Then I saw a truck laden down with cut timber. These trees were even bigger. They dwarfed the truck that carried them. And something clicked inside my head. “This isn’t real,” I told myself. “I’m dreaming.”

Not long ago, I had determined a way to tell if I were dreaming or not. It didn’t involve pinching myself, which doesn’t work. No, what I do if I think I’m dreaming is jump up and see if I can touch the ceiling of the room I’m in. If I touch it, then I’m dreaming. I’ve used this successfully before but here I was in a car. I brushed the roof above my head with my fingers but that told me nothing.

While trying to come up with some other test, I realized I’d already proven the dream quality to myself anyway. While I’d been focused on trying to figure out how to know if I was dreaming, the car had gone on driving “itself” along the highway without running off the road. That would be nice in real life, but it proved to me here that I was in a dream.

Typically, when I find myself going lucid, I immediately start to fly. I love flying and know I don’t have a lot of time to do so in a dream. This time, though, I wanted to see this incredible forest better and simply projected myself out of the car onto a path through the trees. The mist was heavy and damp. I felt a chill. I didn’t care.

The trees loomed far, far over my head, their tops lost in white. The path wound between them and I moved along it, encased in an amber silence that was profound. At one point I saw a pale shape watching me from among the trees. In the real world it would have just been a billow of mist, but I knew here that it was a friendly spirit. I felt very strongly that it was my father. The dream dissolved a moment later and I had no chance to speak to him. I’ve done so in other dreams.

Someone told me not long ago that they hated to waste time sleeping. I never begrudge the time myself. Not only do my physical pains and worries disappear when I sleep, but I get to visit new landscapes and sometimes whole new worlds. I get to feel that oneness with the universe that I seldom feel while awake.

No, I don’t begrudge sleeping. It is then that I live other lives.
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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Year of Reading

Today is my birthday. Fifty-six now. Hard to believe. I still feel mentally about eighteen, but when I try to get up out of a chair my true age comes calling. I count my reading year from birthday to birthday. For the past couple of years I've done a post about it on this day, or soon after. Here's another.

My book consumption was down this year. I managed 72 books, which broke a 7 year streak of reading over 100 a year. This is actually my lowest average since 2000-2001, where I read 71 books. I also break my list down by genre. Westerns won this year, with 16 total. That's the most in this genre I've read since 1997-1998. Nonfiction and SF were next with 12 each. That's up for NF and down for SF from last year.

I have done more writing this year than last so that accounts for some of the decreased reading time and decreased reads, but I think more of the downturn is due to a decrease in certain genres. Three genres dipped pretty low this year, poetry, graphic novels, and YA fiction. All three of these are relatively short works compared to some others, meaning that they require less reading time. In contrast, NF works are generally slower reads. Overall, this is probably what added up to fewer total books.

I don't feel compelled to read 100 books a year, although I like to. The only real disappointment was that my average book consumption per year actually dropped a little this year, from 80.15 per year (since age 6) to 79.98. I don't actually have clear yearly records going back past 1987-1988, when I started keeping records like I'm doing now. But I have been keeping a general list of books I've read since my early teen years. I'm sure there are plenty of books that I forgot to write down in those years, when I wasn't quite so obsessive about it. And I probably have missed a number of books I read in the years before I hit my teens. So, the overall averages are just approximations, although I'm convinced they are fairly close.

In other news, I just sent out my third author Newsletter. Most of you who visit here regularly are certainly on the list to get it. But if you didn't and are interested in getting a copy, you can email me or message me on facebook and give me your email address. I send out no more than two a year so it won't clutter your inbox. My email is kainja at hotmail dot com.

Enjoy your day!
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Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Adventures of an Arkansawyer


Well, another book goes up on Amazon. This one is called The Adventures of an Arkansawyer. Right now it is print only. It contains two sections. The first one is familiar to some of you. It’s “Days of Beer,” albeit expanded a bit with some fresh memories.” The second section, which is about twice as long, is called “The Adventurers of an Arkansawyer.” Both sections are memoirs.

I always intended to do a print version of “Days,” but it wasn’t long enough on its own.  Back in the spring I decided to a write a companion section with humorous memories from my experiences growing up in Arkansas. I worked on it over the summer and into early fall, until it finally threatened to become overwhelming. I finally subdivided it into two sections, 1) memories from childhood up through graduate school in Arkansas, and 2) memories from the years after I left Arkansas for Louisiana. That latter piece will be called “Tales of an Arkansaw Traveler,” though it is a long way from being finished.

This is the first of my own books that I’ve self published through CreateSpace. I did the Inklings anthology late last year, but that had many other writers in it. Why print only? Well, I figured the biggest interest for my memoir pieces would be around my hometown, but Days of Beer didn’t sell that well there, and I wondered if it was because it was ebook only. So, this time I decided to go print only—at least initially—to see if that would have any effect.

As for doing a later ebook version, I’ve got a question for the blogosphere. Since Days of Beer is already an ebook, I’m wondering whether I should e-publish The Adventures of an Arkansawyer in its complete form, or publish only the section with the new memories. What do you think?  Got to give it some thought.


As always, thanks to my honey for a great cover image. If you want to check out the book itself, here’s the link to Amazon


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Monday, October 06, 2014

CONtraflow Report

I don't attend many SF conventions just because most take place in the fall and spring, when I'm in school. It's hard to get away. Fortunately, CONtraflow is local and I've been going for the past four years. I hope to continue that streak.

CONtraflow is a three day Con. I got there around 4:00 on Friday and was there till about 10:00. All I really had to do was go to the Meet the Guests party and eat a little cake afterward. I mostly visited with old friends, some writers/guests and many of the staff folks who volunteer and keep it all running and smooth. This year, Greg Benford was the Guest of Honor. I've read quite a few of his books, although not too many of his most recent.

Saturday I only had one panel, at 9:00 that night. It was about horror fiction. I sat on it with Kurt Amacker, another local writer who leans more toward the comic/graphic side of the equation. We really focused on Science fiction horror, like Alien, The Thing, etc, rather than on supernatural horror, like The Exorcist. I also listened in on some other cool panels during the day, though, one on science and faith, which was helpful to me given that I've been long working on a book on that topic. Another interesting panel was on Queer Science Fiction. That is quite a broad term and encompasses far more than "gay." Great to hear viewpoints I've never heard before. I also got to see a short fan made film from the group "Star Trek Continues." It was a take-off from the Mirror Universe episode of the original Trek series and was just excellent. The passion of the actors really showed through. I loved it.

Sunday I had two panels, a morning one on "What's next in Supernatural Literature," and an evening one on "Pulp Writers."  We had a freewheeling discussion in the morning one on all kinds of trends in the supernatural genres but couldn't arrive at a clear consensus other than most of the "creatures" we see now are likely to continue to exist in literature at various levels, either rising temporarily or falling equally temporarily.

The evening Pulp Writer panel was fun. We had four folks, up from two last year. But two of the four were the same folks from last year and they'd enjoyed it then. We, of course talked about Howard, Burroughs, Lovecraft, Smith etc. I suggested that the closest thing to modern pulp was the Hollywood blockbuster, although it often only adapts the surface aspects of pulp.

After that I went to the dealer's room and found, as I expected, lots of books on sale. I picked up a number that I didn't have, including some more in the Dumarest of Terra series by E. C. Tubb, and several William Tenn novels that I didn't have. There weren't any 'notable' finds but buying books always brings a grin to my face.

As for blogging, I missed visiting blogs over the weekend since I was only home long enough to sleep. I'm now behind on a number of things and give two tests this week so I may not be visiting blogs for a few more days. After that I will resume as normal. I do see that the blogosphere didn't really miss a beat while I was gone so I'm sure that will continue for a bit longer before my absence is noted and everything just shuts down! :)

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